Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?

Skyway Monte Bianco viewed from Pavillion, at 2,200m - mid-station of the Skyway Monte Bianco.

Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?

Aiguille du Midi or Punta Helbronner- which one you should go to visit? Honestly, I would visit both and connect from one another through the Panoramic Mont Blanc Tunnel gondola.

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You can tell my happiness of being on top of the world (at least European world). Here at the Aiguille du Midi. Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?
You can tell my happiness of being on top of the world (at least European world). Here at the Aiguille du Midi. Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?

The case for Aiguille du Midi – Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?

Aiguille du Midi (3842m) is located in Chamonix, in the border with Italy, and is one of the biggest attractions to go year-round, and lots in the summer to go and see the Mont Blanc (4810 m).

The funicular departs from a very modern lift base that has a shop, a food outlet and the big funicular that takes you to the middle station, from where you take a second funicular to the top. The top has a series of different terraces at different heights, to see 360-degree views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps in all their splendour plus the magnificent Mont Blanc. Inside the structure is a bit old and you go within a cave, taking an elevator to go up the rock. This does not take the awesomeness of the landscape… It is really worth to go up there, you do feel you are on the top of the world, even though is really the top of Europe!

The Panoramic Mont Blanc lift connects Aiguille du Midi in France, with Punta Helbronner, in Italy. Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?
The Panoramic Mont Blanc lift connects Aiguille du Midi in France, with Punta Helbronner, in Italy. Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?

You can connect to go to Italy via the Panoramic Mont Blanc lift, which is a series of three gondolas (cable cars) going together on top of the Mer de Glace (the glacier sea) that zips you to Italy to Punta Helbronner (3466 m). This gondola has reopened last year after being closed for a bit due to one of the cabins falling on the glacier. I’ve written about it in this post some time ago. Still, this happened in winter, when this lift was closed, and it was due to a massive snow storm combined with really cold temperatures which froze the snow on top of the cable and its weight made it snap.

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Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile. The boys happy after a great ski day.

Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

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This past February, as it is usual now, for our eight year in the row, we left home very early, this time with our pooch, and drove to the Eurotunnel, one hour- and a bit now due to the diversion in the M2/M20, and us trying to find an open petrol station to fill up our car.

Driving off Calais to the mountains. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.
Driving off Calais to the mountains. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

We arrived with time to only go to the toilet and we boarded on our way to France. Thirty-five minutes later, we were rolling down the A16 and then A 26, all the way to Reims, and then around Reims and down to Troyes, and changed to A5 towards Chaumont. Just on exit 24 you get off the motorway and, after paying the hefty toll fee, and get into the route nationale 10 to get through a lovely wooded and windy road to Chaumont.

Following our road in the map. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.
Following our road in the map. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

We made it in fantastic time to Chaumont, we got in our room at the Ibis Styles Chaumont Centre Gare and after trying to have a nap – an impossible task with the boys wired and running in the room, I went out with my eldest into town…

Arriving into Chaumont through the Route Nationale 10. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.
Arriving into Chaumont through the Route Nationale 10. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

Just a nice walk around town, we’ve visited an old chocolate store with long showcase cabinets, which is a pleasure in itself. We got some chocolates, then we went to a fashion shop. My eldest is into fashion now…. getting to be a tweeny! He wanted a brand t-shirt. I don’t know why kids are so much into brands now. I negotiated with him that I was giving the money in exchange of one Amazon voucher he was given as a gift in Christmas and he could buy it.

Around Chaumont with my eldest and Ozzy. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.
Around Chaumont with my eldest and Ozzy. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

After going to the local supermarket to have some little something in the room as it was still early, we came back to the hotel room.

At the chocolate shop in Chaumont. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.
At the chocolate shop in Chaumont. Our half term ski-safari holiday based in the Valdigne of Aosta Valley- Courmayeur, Pila and La Thuile.

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My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.

My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.

My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.

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In August this year, I had the great surprise of my mum telling me she wanted to give me an advanced inheritance. She knew I always wanted to have a home in the mountains, but there was no way that I could afford it with my salary and that of with my husbands’. We were vacationing in Normandie when she told me so. I could not hold my excitement and started looking in all real estate websites.

Going in our ride from GVA to Courmayeur. My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.
Going in our ride from GVA to Courmayeur. My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.

I’ve started with some of the British ones, but sooner came to check the Italian websites. The Guide to Buying a Home in Italy gave me lots of ideas of how to start and the contact of my property lawyer: Alessandro Clemente, who was great! I’ve talked to him before starting and he told me all the things I needed to take into account when going to scout properties. That was very important as I could have done all things wrong if I was not in the know.

We’ve planned to have a short trip end of August to visit some places. Idealista website was the one I’ve finished using to seeing the different offers and sorting what I want to do and an agenda on how we were going to go around. At first, I was thinking in two areas: Courmayeur and Cervinia. I’ve seen some flats in Cervinia – (Valtourneche really) with views of the Monte Cervino that seemed fabulous. Digging a bit more into what they were offering, this was part of a programme where you need to use your flat only some weeks and the rest the administration of the building takes care of it and rents it out. That kind of discouraged me because I wanted to have the option that if in the future I want to move to Italy, I have a place! Then talking to my mum, she told me that if I like so much Courmayeur and the Valdigne (the Valley of the Mont Blanc), why don’t I focus on that area only. Which really made my job easier in focusing how to use our three days better.

The balcony at the Gran Baita Hotel with a view of the Dente del Gigante - even though a cloud is covering it at the time. My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.
The balcony at the Gran Baita Hotel with a view of the Dente del Gigante – even though a cloud is covering it at the time. My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.

Got the flights to Geneva and transfers to Courmayeur. Got the hotel (Gran Baita) in Courmayeur and started looking each day at the Idealista website and sorting which flats I would want to visit. I had two weeks to talk to everyone and sort a pretty busy agenda. I’ve started to get excited!

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A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.

Maison Vielle with the Mont Blanc in the backdrop - the place to eat in the mountain- Photo credit: The-Ski-Guru. A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.

A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.

Courmayeur Mont Blanc is a well renown ski resort for its vistas and also for its food! Stopping while skiing or boarding for coffee, hot chocolate or an aperitivo, plus having lunch, is part of what makes Courmayeur so special. However, with so much offer, you have to think where you want to go, and if not lining up for a sandwich, then you need to make a reservation early on if you want to eat in a specific restaurant! This is more so if you are visiting when it is high season. You can attempt to ski into the restaurant early morning and reserve a table there or do so over the phone. I’ve seen that also some restaurants are accepting reservations online.  In very high season, it would not be a bad idea to book your table even a day or more in advance.

Restaurant Christiana in the base of Plan Chécrouit. A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.
Restaurant Christiana in the base of Plan Chécrouit. A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.

As you know, the mountain of Courmayeur is divided in two sides: The Plan Chécrouit side – accessed from the centre of Courmayeur with the Armani funicular or from Dolonne with the cable car, and the Val Veny side, reached by the Courmayeur funicular from the parking lot of Val Veny, located just before the start of the Mont Blanc Tunnel, and across from the Skyway rotating gondola parking lot. I am only focusing on the restaurants in the mountain in this post, not on Skyway (maybe on another post in the future I’ll do that!)

Plan Chécrouit Side:

Bar du Soleil – As soon as you get up the funicular or gondola, you go towards the ski schools in Plan Chécrouit and you’ll find it on the left-hand side, across from the ski schools. Mario and Luisa are your hosts. It is a place of good value for money, a typical quick place for a coffee before dropping your kids at ski school and to grab a good pizza and pasta for decent prices. It has a big terrace to eat outside. Dogs are allowed.

Cafe Bar du Soleil in Plan Chécrouit.A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.
Cafe Bar du Soleil in Plan Chécrouit.A Foodie Guide to on-Mountain Dining in Courmayeur.

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Our Christmas holidays in the mountains with the kids and our dog! Courmayeur, Aosta.

The boys waiting for the funicular of Val Veny to take us back to Courmayeur. Photo: The-Ski-Guru.

Our Christmas holidays in the mountains with the kids and our dog! Courmayeur, Aosta.

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So now that we are happy homeowners of a lovely flat in the mountains, we’ll be there on every possible occasion. To do it cheap and more environmentally friendly, we drive with a full car going through the Eurotunnel and sleeping over in Chaumont on our way up, staying at the Ibis Chaumont Centre Gare, and in Reims coming back.

And as leaving your dog in care in the UK is super expensive, more in Christmas, we decided to take him with us and try our ski holiday with a dog! We have already travelled with him when we went to equip the flat in October, and I’ve realised, that if Ozzy had his sleeping crate, he is fine. That is his safe place. So, I’ve ordered one in Amazon to be delivered in Italy. That made the trick.

We arrived in Morgex with some foul weather. Still so pretty that we went out every day! Our Christmas holidays in the mountains with the kids and our dog! Courmayeur, Aosta.
We arrived in Morgex with some foul weather. Still so pretty that we went out every day! Our Christmas holidays in the mountains with the kids and our dog! Courmayeur, Aosta.

When we go and stay over in a hotel, there is no way that Ozzy will stay happy at a hotel room, even with his best filled bone. He starts crying first and the noise turns into a bark- therefore that is not an option! We have learnt to go to eat in two halves. Usually my husband and my eldest take Ozzy for a walk and I have a quick dinner with my youngest, and then we go to the room and stay with Ozzy while they have dinner. Same in the morning for breakfast. It is not ideal, but that seems to work fine for us.

The trip to the mountains is always amazing. I was expecting it to be much busier, as we’ve left the day after school broke up, on 21st December. I was glad to see that the route was pretty empty, even if France was having transport strikes at the time.

We arrived in our home in Morgex, just 10’ down the road from Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, with good light and with time to bring all the goodies we were bringing to the flat to finish decorating it. As the car was really full, we will need to bring more boxes in our next February trip.

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Stay at the Heart of the Valdigne to ski in Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila/Aosta

The outside of the apartment in Morgex that we've finished buying. My experience of buying a home in the Italian Alps.

Stay at the Heart of the Valdigne (Il Cuore della Valdigne) to ski in Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila/Aosta for your ski or summer holiday.

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The Aosta Valley is magnificent from wherever you look at it. Great mountains, from the Mont Blanc, Monte Cervino (Matterhorn) and Monterosa, to glaciers, rivers, hot springs, lakes, you name it.

Living room at Il Cuore della Valdigne. Stay at the Heart of the Valdigne to ski in Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila/Aosta.
Living room at Il Cuore della Valdigne. Stay at the Heart of the Valdigne to ski in Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila/Aosta.

Having a holiday there is the best way to disconnect from everyday worries, the rat race and why all of us who love the mountains, want to at least, do once a year.

Il Cuore della Valdigne is a beautiful stone and wood apartment in the middle of the Valdigne, the valley of the Mont Blanc, what in my opinion, has the nicest vistas of the Aosta Valley and one of the nicest of the Alps.

Being in the middle of Morgex, just 10’ outside Courmayeur, 3 minutes from the Pré Saint Didier terme (natural hot springs) and 20’ from La Thuile, and to the other side, 25’ to Aosta and the gondola of Pila, the chalet is located in a great strategic location for going skiing, cross country skiing (in Arpy, Val Ferret or Cogne), mountain biking, snow shoeing, winter walking, white water rafting and relaxing in the hot springs.

Living room at Il Cuore della Valdigne. Stay at the Heart of the Valdigne to ski in Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila/Aosta.
Living room at Il Cuore della Valdigne. Stay at the Heart of the Valdigne to ski in Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila/Aosta.

The apartment has two bedrooms and two bathrooms with showers in two floors, a living room with a double-sided chimney that also opens to the dining room. The wooden kitchen with the slate kitchen top is a delight, with all you need if you fancy doing a big meal. If you don’t, no worries, you are a stone throw away from many bars and restaurants in Morgex: Mont Blanc Café, Café de l’Archet, La Locanda, Trattoria da Bepe, and if you fancy something much more deluxe, the renown Casa Quinson, all within two blocks from the apartment.

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A fast-melting glacier in the Mont Blanc raised an alarm in the area of Val Ferret of Courmayeur.

Plampincieux Iconography - from Daily Mail. A fast-melting glacier in the Mont Blanc raised an alarm in the area of Val Ferret of Courmayeur.

A fast-melting glacier in the Mont Blanc raised an alarm in the area of Val Ferret of Courmayeur.

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The Planpincieux glacier on the Grande Jorasses peak of the Mont Blanc massif, which marks the border between Italy, France and Switzerland is fast-melting and could provoke a collapse of 8.8 million cubic feet mass of the 512 square mile glacier.

A helicopter rides on top of the glacier. Photo: Antonio Calanni AP - The Guardian. A fast-melting glacier in the Mont Blanc raised an alarm in the area of Val Ferret of Courmayeur.
A helicopter rides on top of the glacier. Photo: Antonio Calanni AP – The Guardian. A fast-melting glacier in the Mont Blanc raised an alarm in the area of Val Ferret of Courmayeur.

The glacier overlooks the Val Ferret and Planpincieux, 7 km up from Courmayeur. Experts from Fondazione Montagna Sicura (Safe Mountain Foundation), a charity in charge of monitoring the glaciers of Aosta Valley, said that this glacier has been moving since they have been monitoring it closely starting in 2013, but the size of a recent fracture and the increase of the speed at which the ice is melting raised the alarm.

This area is popular with hikers, so Courmayeur’s Major Miserocchi closed as a safety measure, mountain refuges and part of a road upon which the ice could directly fall. Contrary to first reported, only one home had to be evacuated. The rest of the 10 homes in the hamlet beneath the glacier are empty summer holiday homes.

A group of 160 or so pupils marched on Friday to protest against climate change with banners and slogans from “Ban plastic, save our planet” to “You broke our glacier”.

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Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Courmayeur in the summer. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Since I first went to Courmayeur, having stopped there for breakfast, on our way home from our annual ski week in Pila, driving through the scenic SS26, I fall in love with the place. When we were coming up, just after coming out the Mont Blanc tunnel, you see the gondolas and the tram on top of the route, plus the town with all its buildings very prettily aligned around the route and I knew I wanted to check it out! Being working in the ski biz for almost all my life, before moving to the UK (in the US/Canada and Argentina/Chile), I knew about Courmayeur as a name, but I have not visited many ski areas outside America.

Summer in the mountains? Why not? The look from Plan Chécrouit in Courmayeur. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.
Summer in the mountains? Why not? The look from Plan Chécrouit in Courmayeur. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Of all places in our first family ski holiday in Europe, we’ve finished in Ollomont – a small ski ‘field’ – I would say, in the end of the road where mountaineers go to ice climb – but I will write more of this in another post.

But back now to Courmayeur. Since our first breakfast there, we had a second one on the following trip with my friend Claudine from the Tourist Office of Courmayeur and her baby – and then again we’ve been up the Skyway coming back from Lago di Como, and finally we’ve stayed  for some nights in winter for two years now – and managed to ski the mountain! First time only one day and the last time, for two (even though my knee was not up for skiing!).

But last summer, I’ve convinced my husband to go at least one week during our summer holidays. I would love to uproot my family there, (to the answers of my husband of what will I do, I don’t speak the language – and me telling him to just learn it!) I wanted to stay in the summer, to see how it is life in Courma in the summer. I’ve been in the fall, seeing at all the hotels – for my Must-Read Guide to Courmayeur. Even many hotels were closed, they’ve opened them to me, and I could see them while many of the maintenance and upgrades were taking place.

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A Feltrinelli bookshop at an altitude of 3466: Europe’s highest bookshop opens on Mont Blanc

Skyway Monte Bianco, Punta Helbronner, Courmayeur. A Feltrinelli bookshop at an altitude of 3466: Europe's highest bookshop opens on Mont Blanc.

A Feltrinelli bookshop at an altitude of 3466: Europe’s highest bookshop opens on Mont Blanc

From IlLibrario.it

60 square meters at an altitude of 3,466 meters and a literary proposal addressed to those who love walking in the woods, surrounded by nature, to those who are always looking for stimuli and points of view, to those who challenge their own limits and to those who feel the need to escape (and find themselves) in open solitudes. The images are of the new library in the Punta Helbronner’s station of the  Rotating Funicular Skyway Mont Blanc.

Skyway Monte Bianco. La Feltrinelli at 3,466 m. Photo Lorenzo Passioni. A Feltrinelli bookshop at an altitude of 3466: Europe's highest bookshop opens on Mont Blanc
Skyway Monte Bianco. La Feltrinelli at 3,466 m. Photo Lorenzo Passioni. A Feltrinelli bookshop at an altitude of 3466: Europe’s highest bookshop opens on Mont Blanc

On the Mont Blanc, inside the Punta Helbronner station– The SkyWay, the third floor of the Skyway Monte Biancodi Funivie Montebianco S.p.a.: here Feltrinelli has chosen to inaugurate the highest bookshop in Europe.

“What makes the mountain unique and the lucky explorer is the possibility of looking at the world from a different and exciting point of view. And this is precisely what makes a good book and the mountain, the reader and the traveller, so similar”, reads the presentation of LaFeltrinelli 3466 (the photos are by Lorenzo Passoni, ed).

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Spot on: Gran Baita Hotel – Courmayeur

Gran Baita Executive room with outside pool with jacuzzi. Photo: Gran Baita Hotel Courmayeur. Aiguille du Midi vs Punta Helbronner – which one you should do?

Spot on: Gran Baita Hotel – Courmayeur

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The Gran Baita Hotel is a four starts hotel, part of the Alpissima group of hotels in the Aosta Valley. It is located in Courmayeur, 15 minutes from the Armani funicular, 10 minutes from the Via Roma, the elegant pedestrianised shopping road in Courmayeur, and five minutes-drive with a free hotel transfer to the Dolonne gondola.

It is located in a quiet and elegant neighbourhood in Courmayeur, with amazing vistas of the Mont Blanc chain, and the characteristic Dent de Géant peak. I totally recommend it as a lovely hotel to go for your ski or summer holidays.

Restaurant of the Gran Baita. Spot on: Gran Baita Hotel – Courmayeur
Restaurant of the Gran Baita. Spot on: Gran Baita Hotel – Courmayeur

Decoration is all in the Valdostan style, with lots of wood and cosy interiors. The hotel has 54 well-appointed rooms, many of them with balconies offering magnificent views of the Alps, as Courmayeur is located just by the Mont Blanc and the views everywhere you look at, are amazing! From the regular rooms, many of which are being renovated for the next winter holiday, to the Executive Rooms, with a wooden rustic-chic feel and mini private outside pools with jacuzzi, you have a choice for your stay. Some of the rooms are connecting, to house families. I’ve recently stayed in Room 222, that does not look towards the pool, but has a lovely feeling, with two balconies, and you can see the Dent de Géant while in the balcony. Completely loved my room. Travelled with my mum and she said she wants to buy it!

The in-house restaurant is lovely decorated in wood with oozes cosiness and offers local and international dishes.  La Sapiniere, is their newest addition, a stübe, typical from the Alps, serving Valdostan cuisine in a super cozy ambiance. The American bar has a welcoming fireplace and a spacious terrace with amazing views of the Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains.

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